Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cheesy Goodness: Lasagna!

You know it's been too long since you last made lasagna when you stop by the cheese section at the grocery store to daydream.

I got the chance to make lasagna when I was invited to a sleepover (AKA a Qiyam) at a friend's house. When I went shopping for the ingredients, I chose monterey jack cheese, mozzarella cheese, and ricotta. I also picked up some mushrooms for the sauce.

Back at home, I prepared the sauce and sliced the jack cheese while the lasagna noodles boiled.

I also beat the ricotta with a couple eggs. Done with the cheeses.

Next step: layering! Start by spreading some sauce on the bottom of the dish you will be using for the lasagna. This keeps the bottom layer from sticking.

Place some lasagna noodles on the sauce, overlapping them. Cover these with more sauce.

Using a spatula, spread some of the ricotta mixture on the sauce.

Cheeese time :D

Throw on some more noodles.

Spread more sauce! (and cheese)

And the rest of the ricotta..

Repeat: Cheese, lasagna noodles, sauce

Top it off with the mozzarella cheese. I used shredded.

Bake, cool slightly, and serve.

Although putting together lasagna can be really fun, eating it is by far the best part :)


· 3/4 pound lean ground beef
· 1/2 cup minced onion
· 2 cloves garlic, crushed
· 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
· 2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
· 2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
· 1/2 cup water
· 2 tablespoons white sugar
· 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
· 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
· 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
· 1 tablespoon salt
· 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
· 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
· 12 lasagna noodles
· 16 ounces ricotta cheese
· 2 eggs
· 1/2 teaspoon salt
· 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
· 3/4 cup sliced monterey jack cheese

1. Cook ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of the monterey jack cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over cheese, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup mozarella cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining sauce and mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Peach Crunch Cake

Every Wednesday, the local super market has their fresh produce arrivals and my parents also restock our fridge. So, when my dad unintentionally over loaded on peaches, we thought that there had to be some way to use them in bulk before they start to go bad. Peach cobbler was the first idea that came to my sister's head but when I stumbled upon this recipe by Bakerella, I knew we had to make it.

Peach Crunch Cake
As Bakerella dubbed the recipe, it is ridiculously easy. There is no mixing or folding or any complicated step involved in making Peach Crunch Cake. All you need to do is layer the ingredients and create this "cake."

First: Fresh peaches in syrup
Second: Yellow Cake Mix
Third: Butter
Fourth: Brown Sugar
Last: Almonds (or walnuts)
Bakerella's recipe called for canned peaches but we wanted to use our fresh peaches. I knew that canned peaches were nothing like fresh peaches, so we made our own. First we cooked a syrup out of water and sugar. Then we dipped the peaches into boiling water for a couple seconds and quickly moved them into chilled water, making it easier for the skins to slide off. After peeling the peaches, we cut them into small pieces and dropped them into the syrup.

Fresh out of the oven
We had to have the peach crunch cake with vanilla ice cream so my older sister bought some for us. The finished product was delicious and none of us could resist getting seconds. Well, some of us had thirds.

Make sure you try out this recipe on your own because it is seriously easy to make - and delicious. Enjoy!


Monday, August 22, 2011

Ramadan 2011 - Iftar for the 'hood

As you may or may not know, dear reader, this is a very special time for my sister Wardah and I... and millions of others. Muslims are currently observing the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar.

Ramadan is a month in which Muslims from every corner of the world fast. We fast because we are obligated to by our religion. Fasting teaches Muslims patience, obedience, moderation, and empathy towards our less-fortunate brothers and sisters who do not have enough to eat on a regular basis.

Fasting means no eating or drinking at all from dawn to sunset. Then, at sunset, Muslims eat a special meal called iftar, which often includes dates and milk. As an American-Pakistani, I sometimes eat items such as pakoras and samosas for iftar, while on other days, I might break my fast with pizza and frozen yogurt.

This Ramadan, my family and I wanted to share our iftar meal with our neighbors. We live in a neighborhood where Muslims are a minority. So we thought that if we share our iftar with our neighbors, they could learn a little something new about Muslims.

A couple hours before sunset, we began preparing platters of dates and traditional foods that Pakistani people break their fast with. This iftar included a fruit salad known as a fruit chaat, pakoras, samosas, kabobs, puff pastries stuffed with seasoned meat, and a chickpea salad known as cholay. My siblings and I prepared the food with my mother's expert help, then we formed an assembly line to dish out the different foods on the platters. The entire time, we were wading through amazing aromas. As everyone was fasting, this was an extreme lesson in self-control :)

I also baked chocolate chip cookies for the occasion. You can't have a meal without having dessert!

We even prepared a refreshing drink called Rooh Afza, which is popular at Pakistani iftars.

Water bottle gradient!

My family and I really enjoyed making iftar for our neighbors. Hopefully they learned something about Ramadan from us, and we learned to be more giving. 


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Baking with My Brother

Baking with Abdullah
My brother, Abdullah, is a twelve-year old bundle of fun. It had been a long time since I last spent a day with him, completely free of distractions and scuffles, just to have fun. So, when he proposed making cookies for family and friends, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to have our brother-sister date.

Turtle Fudge Brownies
This was my brothers first time in the kitchen baking so I thought we would tackle something simple, but my mom had other plans for us. She gave us a list of requests from my sisters and her which turned into something like this -- chocolate chip cookies, brownies, white chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, sugar cookies, and spice cake. My brother and I crossed out some stuff from the list but in the end, we still spent more than 5 hours in the kitchen.

White Chocolate Chip Cookies
We made turtle fudge brownies, 2 dozen chocolate chip cookies, 2 dozen white chocolate chip cookies, 1 dozen oatmeal almond cookies, and 2 dozen oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Everything was a great success! After all of our baking was over, Abdullah kept on saying, "Hey, how come you never let me help out in the kitchen before? I never knew I had such a talent for baking!" Hahaha, he is pretty funny. He told me yesterday that when he gets older, he wants to be a pastry chef or a cook. I wonder how long that dream will last for.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
The best thing wasn't that the cookies were made from scratch, or that they turned out great, and most definitely not the mess of a kitchen I had to clean up afterwards, but the fact that we spent some quality time together. And I wouldn't give that up for anything else in the world.

Cookies... yummm.
In the end, we set the treats in trays and wrapped them for friends, family, and awesome neighbors. Of course, we kept half of everything for ourselves!

Gift Trays
Would you like one too next time? ;)

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